How are we wired to live through our avatars?


If Pais goes for a bike ride, does his human counterpart benefit from seeing that exercise? Check out a little blurb from the Sciam blog:

“According to research at Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab watching a “digital you” strongly influences the “real you.”
Principal author Jesse Fox had 25 subjects watch a digital clone (or avatar) of themselves running on a treadmill for five minutes.
She found that those who watched their avatar break a sweat spent more time exercising within a 24-hour period (an hour more in fact), than the control subjects who watched another person jogging, or those who watched their own avatar doing nothing. That’s more than double the Surgeon General’s minimum daily recommendation for exercise.
Persuasion studies have shown that we are most influenced by those similar to us, in looks, values, education. But here we are being persuaded by the ultimate model: our own self.”
This is really a tip of the issue for me. I am curious to know the mechanisms of our mind, identity, and perceptions that give virtual worlds like Second Life the “juice” that make it so compelling. The experiment they describe are showing the kinds of tangible links to our real world selves to things we experience in a virtual world. I hope to learn more and report what I find here.
If anyone else is interested, here is one of my challenges: For those of us that have experience SL, we know it can be a powerful experience. I have tried to describe in other blogs how emotion and other factors come to play a larger role than, at lease for myself, it seems such an artificial world should be able to invoke.  However, I have yet to see anyone explain what this experience in a way that could clearly, quickly, and concisely describe this phenomenon so that someone who has not yet tried SL would understand it.
If you had thirty seconds or two paragraphs to get this experience across to someone, how would you describe it?  Not even anything I have read from the Lindens has yet to crystalize this package of psyche, psych and tech.
As the title of this blog implies, I think there are parts of us that are “wired” to be able to project ourselves into an avatar. In the blurb, they are talking about an avatar that looks like ourselves, but I think we can project into almost anything we relate to in some way. The best non-SL example I can give is how I used to play as a child with toy animals. I would become intimate with the world I imagined them living in by seeing that world through their eyes. I remember taking my toy animals with me on car trips, and hold them up to the window so they could “see”, and then think about what the world might look like to them.  It seems to me our brains have mechanisms that allow us to perform this kind of play, as well as relate to actors in plays and movies, and other parts of our minds go for the ride – our emotions and our sense of place.
The more we understand how we are wired for this, the more we can better appreciate the “juice” of our virtual play place, and in turn the many dimensions of our selves.

3 responses to “How are we wired to live through our avatars?

  1. Ever try riding a bike on the beach?

  2. Hi Adz, thanks for the comment. Yes, I have ridden a bike on a beach. The easiest way is for there to be a bike trail, road, boardwalk, or sidewalk running next to the beach. The other is to ride in the part of the sand next to the water that is smooth and wet from the surf; depending on the beach conditions, it is often as hard as a road to your moving wheels. However, next to an ocean any water or wet sand is salty, and my real life mountain bike has rusty bits thanks to this :-/ I added a picture of my RL bike on a beach in Gulf of Mexico.

  3. The analytical left brain (Big T.) says: “Second Life is a giant laboratory … a huge Petri dish of human behavior in which we can culture a zillion alternatives or possibilities without the barriers and restrictions of RL. I’m fascinated by the opportunity to challenge our beliefs about, say, organizational behavior, interpersonal psychology (especially transactional analysis) and behavioral economics.”

    The creative/emotional right brain (Trodden) says: “Second Life scares me kinda like real life, so my left brain doesn’t let me out too often. Too much fighting and head games and stuff, just like RL was when my left brain was a kid. Once in a while I find a safe spot with people I trust, and I get to crawl out of his head and stretch my legs. And you find out new stuff about yourself and other people all the time. Like … I never knew I could actually make people happy!”

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